A Black woman’s relationship with her hair is personal. Some of us prefer the sleek look of straight hair. Others turn to weaves, wigs, or protective styles for ease of maintenance or freedom of expression. While others of us wear our kinks and coils big and bold. No one choice is “better” or “worse” than the other, and that’s the beauty of our hair: The versatile ways in which we can celebrate ourselves and our roots are endless.
But for years in Hollywood, the styles we saw told an entirely different story—one where only straight hair or long, shiny, Eurocentric-looking “beach waves” were something to covet. This, of course, was an ideal upheld by the traditional—racist—standards of beauty that have persisted in American culture for centuries.
As Hollywood continues to diversify and more roles are made for people of color, though, things are changing. Celebrities are pushing back against prejudiced stereotypes of what “red-carpet hair” or “TV hair” should look like. “There was a moment after Grey’s [Anatomy] and Scandal and [How to Get Away With] Murder were all on the air, when we started casting and I started seeing actresses of color come in with natural hair,” said Shonda Rhimes at a Dove event for the Crown Act in 2019. “Five years ago, that never would have happened. Everybody had straight hair and looked a certain way. At a certain point in time, it just shifted. It was kind of wonderful.”
Still, it hasn’t been without a fight. Time and time again, Black celebrities make headlines as they speak out about their horror stories from behind the scenes—like being told their styles of choice are “too Black” (as recently happened to Gabrielle Union on America’s Got Talent) or being forced to treat their hair to make it more “manageable” (as happened to Revenge’s Ashley Madekwe). Even with the increasing number of Black stylists who are revolutionizing what Hollywood beauty means, there are still not enough professionals who actually know how to style Black hair.
Just look at the comments on this viral tweet from Hair Love director Matthew A. Cherry. The responses are telling.
In a 2017 Glamour essay, Union reflected on her experiences as an up-and-coming actress. “I was like a guinea pig on set, and I didn’t yet have enough power to request a stylist who I actually wanted to touch my hair,” she wrote. “It got to the point that I would pay to have my hair done before I got to work and pray they didn’t screw it up.”
That was years ago, and the issue hasn’t gotten much better. But one thing is sure: Celebrities will no longer sit in silence over it.